Always on the Horizon, UK must wait for megabucks EU science deal

Rishi Sunak fails to secure place in €95.5B program before Parliament packs up for holiday

After taking years to get to the point where it could rejoin the EU's €95.5 billion Horizon science program, the UK now seems to want more time to think about its options en route to becoming a global science superpower.

In the latest installment of a long-running saga, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has delayed the decision to rejoin the European scientific research co-operation program, which many UK scientists see as vital to their global relevance, until after the Parliamentary summer recess, according to the Financial Times.

"There are no plans to say anything this week. I'd be surprised if there was anything over the summer," an insider told the pink paper.

The Register has contacted the Cabinet Office and the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology for further comment.

In a statement, the European Commission said it was in discussion with the UK on its participation in Horizon, as foreseen in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, signed as part of the UK's arrangements with the EU after it departed from the trading and political bloc.

Speaking in Parliament, Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for business, energy and industrial strategy, said the prime minister had the chance this month to conclude a deal on Horizon. "He did not take it, again, and so the Horizon saga drags on month after month, year after year."

In response, minister Chloe Smith said the government was working hard to get the "correct deal for UK taxpayers and UK science."

Earlier this month, news broke that the government was negotiating a draft deal to rejoin the Horizon research funding program following years of uncertainty resulting from the Brexit vote.

As recently as February, the government had said Britain was prepared to go it alone on scientific research as it struggles to reach an agreement, in defiance of the majority opinion among UK scientists.

As negotiation over UK membership of Horizon dragged, the government was forced to set aside £484 million to provide "targeted support for staff retention and local talent strategies at eligible universities and research organisations."

Negotiations over Horizon membership had been delayed as the EU and UK struggled to come to terms with other aspects of post-Brexit trading, including arrangements in Northern Ireland, which shares a land border with the EU.

According to a report from the House of Lords last year, the UK's ambition to become a global science superpower was held back because there were no "specific, measurable outcomes," no delivery plan, a short-termist outlook, and "frequent policy changes." ®

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